Here’s to You, Mr. Robinson

In the current debates over confessionalism and pietism, Edwards gets a few wraps on the knuckles, but John Williamson Nevin is mainly cautioned against. One can’t help but get the feeling it is because the Federal Visionaries, who can be found tracing their trails back to Mercersberg, have given more old school high church Calvinists black eyes. So for those who choke on Nevin’s ecclesiology because they think it leads to Moscow (or worse), maybe Stuart Robinson would go down a bit easier.

Both excerpts are from Robinson’s The Church of God: An Essential Element of the Gospel (a title which seems enough to make any pietist, soft or hard, wiggle in his seat).

It may be proper to observe, in this connection, that one feature which is common to all the covenants pertaining to the work of redemption stands out with special prominence in the great Church-covenant with Abraham. Whilst everywhere in Scripture special pains is taken to guard against the error that the blessings of salvation, according to the covenant of grace, have any respect to natural descent, and to declare that the true elect are born not of blood nor of the will of man, yet, on the other hand, special prominence is given to the principle that, as concerning the outworking in time of the scheme of redemption, the children of those who are themselves parties to the covenant have a birthrights to the privileges or the penalties of the covenant. Thus, by virtue of the covenant of works with Adam, every child born of Adam is born to die. By virtue of the covenant with Christ as the second Adam, every mortal that dies must rise from the dead. By virtue of the covenant with Noah not to destroy again with a flood, every child born of Noah, as the second father of the race, has, as a birthright, the guarantee of God against another flood…Now, this principle stands forth with special distinctness in the great Church-covenant with Abraham.

Especially for those disinclined to admit the covenant of works, much less to ascertain the organic relationship between it and a high ecclesiology, the latter of which they seem to mean to recover, it would seem that the so-called “Federal Visionists” might do well to read more Robinson.

The successive revelations come not from God as Creator to men as creatures, but from Messiah as prophet and King over his Church to his own peculiar people. The revelations of Sinai are expressly declared to have been made to the covenant people; and when Moses wrote the words of the Lord in the book, they were formally ratified as the covenant between God and the Church. After Moses, all additional records of inspiration are given to the Church as the depository of the Oracles of God. Here, as in all other points, Rome does not invent pure falsehood, but only counterfeits the truth. The Church is in truth anterior to the Scriptures, the receiver of the Scripture, the guardian of the Scripture. Rome adroitly perverts all this to mean that the Church is superior to Scripture, the maker of Scripture, the infallible interpreter of Scripture. Less monstrous indeed, but not less deceptive, is the Rationalistic assumption that the idea of the Church is something extraneous to the Scripture,–having no other relation than that of an expedient or even a necessity superinduced upon the Scripture, simply by the outworking of a system of revelation made to the world of men at large, and when received by any portion thereof, attracting them together to constitute a School of Religious Philosophy.

True, they don’t claim the Reformed tradition. But for those inclined toward an infallible view of the church, Catholics should read more Robinson if for no other reason than to better understand that, ecclesiastically, there is more to being Protestant than not being Catholic. And to the extent that modern evangelicals are appreciably descendants of the Rationalists, they also would do well to read more Robinson if for no other reason than to better understand they mayn’t reasonably claim the Reformed tradition as so many seem wont to do.

And Reformed, who don’t know Robinson, and who are inclined to allow the contemporary Rationalist to have some purchase on the Reformed tradition, might also be well advised to pick up and read.

This entry was posted in Confessionalism, Covenant Theology, Ecclesiology, High church calvinism, Quotes, Stuart Robinson. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Here’s to You, Mr. Robinson

  1. John Harutunian says:

    Thanks for introducing me to Robinson; I thought his insights excellent. I was familiar with Nevin as the one who debated Charles Hodge on the Eucharist. Not sure who won the debate, but it’s pretty clear that in subsequent Reformed history Hodge’s view prevailed.
    My source for all this is Keith Mathison’s excellent, “Given for You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper.” I do think the fact that R.C. Sproul wrote a highly laudatory preface for the book is a sign of hope!

  2. dgh says:

    well done.

  3. sean says:

    Kline’s Structure of Biblical Authority also does a great job of providing protestantism with an organic canonical and churchly form over against merely being NOT roman catholic.

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